Most of us feel lonely at some point of our lives. According to former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, “the world is suffering from an epidemic of loneliness”.
So what can you do about it? Here are seven strategies to combat loneliness – and feel better about yourself at the same time.
1. Make small talk
Take the time to have a chat with shop keepers and other people you run in to throughout the day. Try engaging with them a little more than you usually do and take some genuine interest in them. These brief conversations can boost your confidence and increase your personal network.
According to clinical psychologist Darin Bergen, “if you practice this small talk in a variety of situations, it’s easier to start a conversation with people you think you want to become friends with. It’s a win-win.”
2. Enjoy your own company
Learning to be comforted by your own company is a big step to overcoming feelings of loneliness. According to clinical social worker Sherry Amatenstein, some good ways to start include “meditation class, tak[ing] yourself to a movie, reading, watch[ing] TED Talks or other things that will make you think, starting with a gratitude journal”.
3. Spend time with a pet
Playing with a pet can boost your oxytocin, which helps to decrease social anxiety. If you don’t have a pet, try volunteering at a pet shelter or offer to walk your neighbour’s dog.
4. Embrace who you are
If you’re an introvert, don’t feel that you have to push yourself to make loads of friends. Just make small, incremental changes when social opportunities arise. Maybe a small social circle is all you need.
5. Take your time
You can’t hurry friendships. According to clinical psychologist Ellen Hendriksen, it takes “between 6-8 conversations before someone considers us a friend”. So make a point of repeating contact with people you meet incidentally throughout the day, such as the same gym class, pick-up time at school or a dog park.
6. Take up a hobby
Take a personal interest in something you’re passionate about. Explore social opportunities such as volunteering or meet-ups, workshops or talks.
7. Use social media
Take advantage of social media to learn details about other people and start a conversation in a future encounter.
“Or better yet,” clinical psychologist Juli Fraga told The Cut, “use the information as an opportunity to reach out and make plans to see each other. For example, this past week I learned that a friend started a six-week exercise program. Knowing that she’s excited about her new routine, I reached out to ask her how it’s going and made plans to have coffee, tomorrow afternoon.”